Kinship and sociality in coastal river otters: Are they related?

Gail M. Blundell, Merav Ben-David*, Pamela Groves, R. Terry Bowyer, Eli Geffen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous studies of coastal river otters (Lontra canadensis) in Prince William Sound, Alaska, USA, documented atypical social organization for mammals. Social groups were composed largely of males, but some males remained solitary year-round and most females were asocial. Because, in carnivores, groups are usually composed of highly related individuals but group living also provides advantages unrelated to kinship, we concurrently evaluated the role of relatedness and ecological benefits in sociality among coastal river otters. By using DNA microsatellite analysis and radiotelemetry, we were able to reject the hypothesis that social groups of otters were kin based. In addition, we found no indication of kin avoidance, as would be expected from low dispersal and high local competition. Sociality conferred no reproductive benefits or costs to otters; number of offspring and number of relatives in the population did not differ between social and solitary animals. Solitary males were not older or larger than were social males, and there was no relation between male size and number of offspring, indicating that sexual selection did not mask a potential relation between sociality and reproductive success. Among coastal river otters in this region, sociality could be explained by the benefits obtained from cooperative foraging on high-quality schooling pelagic fishes. Such benefits did not require association with kin, resulting in no selection pressure for kin-based groups. The prediction that the degree of sociality in the population will fluctuate relative to the abundance of schooling pelagic fishes merits further investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)705-714
Number of pages10
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2004


  • Alaska
  • Kin selection
  • Lontra canadensis
  • Microsatellite DNA
  • Reproductive success
  • Schooling pelagic fishes
  • Sexual selection


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